John Wall was stunned the first time he felt Miami Heat reserve center Zydrunas Ilgauskas pop him in the face with an errant elbow. He stepped back, startled, but it didn’t stop him from pressuring the ball and trying to knock it from Ilguaskas’s hands. But when Ilgauskas used another elbow to get Wall away from him, grazing Wall’s neck, the No. 1 overall pick snapped and responded by swinging, and connecting, at Ilgauskas’s ribcage.
The Washington Wizards had played three competitive games against the Heat, and for the second time this season, they literally showed some fight. Unfortunately, the second quarter skirmish — which resulted in three ejections and two technical fouls — came at the expense of the Wizards losing their best player while Heat lost two relatively meaningless reserves in Ilguaskas and Juwan Howard to ejections.
While Wall sat in the locker room and watched on television, the Wizards continued to battle the Heat, with Jordan Crawford scoring a career-high 39 points and trying to carry the team almost singled-handedly as he brought his team within one point in the fourth quarter. But the Heat’s trio of all-stars in Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh combined to score 94 points and went on to overwhelm the Wizards, 123-107, on Wednesday at Verizon Center.
“I just got hit with an elbow and reacted to it. I’m disappointed with how I reacted to it,” a dejected Wall said after the game. “I let my teammates down. I let my organization down. But I’m glad to see my teammates compete and try to come away with a win.”
James had 35 points, Wade added 33 and Bosh 26 as the Heat swept the season series against the Wizards, who were already short-handed with leading scorer Nick Young missing his second game with a bone bruise in his left knee and Trevor Booker discovering earlier in the day that he was done for the season with a broken bone in his right foot. Andray Blatche returned after missing the previous 11 games with a sprained right shoulder and came off the bench to score 14 points, while Maurice Evans added 21 points in his second start in place of Young.
Othyus Jeffers spent Sunday worried if he was heading back to Iowa for the NBA Development League playoffs or going to get his second 10-day contract, but the undersized forward scored a career-high 15 points, matched Blatche with a team-high eight rebounds and spent time guarding Wade and James.
“In basketball, at the end of the day, names don’t really matter. I think if you go out and play as hard as you can, you give yourself a chance. We gave ourselves a chance tonight, but those three all-stars, we couldn’t stop them,” Crawford said. “I wish that we would’ve won the game. It really doesn’t mean nothing if you don’t win it.”
The Wizards’ chances of pulling out an upset were greatly diminished when — with Washington leading 37-36 in the second quarter — Wall switched to defend Ilgauskas. Wall reached in and Ilgauskas extended his elbow, hitting Wall in the face, and later throwing another that connected with his throat. Wall could receive further discipline from the league, possibly a suspension, but he said he had no choice but to defend himself.
“I think so,” said Wall, who left to a standing ovation after scoring two points and getting five assists in 15 minutes. “I wish I had did it another way, without getting ejected. That’s the toughest part.”
The 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas leaned over the 6-4 Wall and the two exchanged words. Jeffers pulled away Wall and restrained him. But as JaVale McGee (12 points, four blocks) tried to separate the two, Howard rushed McGee and shoved him in the chest with his hands. Coach Flip Saunders then ran onto the floor to intervene, shouting at Howard. “We both just kind of asked where we were going out to dinner after the game,” Saunders said.
Officials convened for several minutes before watching the replay and determining that Wall and Ilgauskas would both receive automatic ejections with flagrant foul penalty twos. McGee was assessed a technical foul and Howard also received a technical, but was ejected for escalating the incident.
This was the second fracas involving the Wizards and Heat this season. When the teams met in Miami on Nov. 29, Hilton Armstrong was ejected for shoving Heat center Joel Anthony while in mid-air. Howard was also tossed in that game, receiving a flagrant penalty two, for retaliating by shoving Armstrong face-first into the floor.
“I went over there to break it up and Juwan wanted to blindside push me or whatever. I don’t know. I guess he wants to be a tough guy,” McGee said. “It was definitely getting ugly for everybody.”
The game continued to get physical, as Crawford and Blatche both picked up technicals later in the contest. But Saunders said he was pleased with the way his team responded in a difficult situation.
“You can always say what if, what if we had John, because we were playing well when he was in there,” he said. “We didn’t back down at all. We competed and I think our guys did grow up.”